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Rockdale County faces litigation from both sides in quarry issue

CONYERS — Rockdale County renewed a business license for Georgia Stone Industries, owner of a granite quarry on Ga. Highway 20, after the company notified the county that it intended to file a lawsuit if the license wasn’t issued.

The county issued the license in April and was sued a month later by a competing quarry company. Broad River Quarries in Elberton is claiming that the county could not legally issue the license because the quarry is a nonconforming use in the county’s Watershed Protection zone. Broad River is asking that the quarry be shut down.

Covington attorney Frank Turner Jr. sent the county an ante litem notice in March stating that Georgia Stone Industries had applied to renew its business license for the quarry in November 2013, but had gotten no response from the county.

“As of this writing, it has been 127 days since Georgia Stone filed its application to renew its business license and no response has been received,” Turner wrote in the letter dated March 28.

Turner notified the county that a lawsuit would be filed seeking to compel the county to issue the license and pay attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

Rockdale County Planning and Development Director Marshall Walker wrote to Ann Marie Ramos, chief financial officer of Georgia Stone on April 24 that a business license for 2014 would be issued, with seven conditions. Georgia Stone had held a business license in 2012 but apparently no license was issued for 2013.

Broad River Quarries, represented locally by attorneys John Nix and Michael Waldrop, claims, among other things, that they were assured by the county in late 2010 and early 2011 that the quarry at 4550 Ga. Highway 20 could not legally operate because operations had lapsed for more than six months. According to Broad River’s lawsuit, those assurances led Broad River not to pursue buying the quarry.

Broad River’s lawsuit also seeks to protect the company’s financial interests. Broad River operates a quarry in Lithonia, which it claims is the only active quarry in the world that produces Silver Cloud granite. Silver Cloud is also the type of granite in the quarry in Rockdale County.

Waldrop said last week that the quality of Silver Cloud granite in the Rockdale County quarry is inferior to the granite mined by Broad River. The company is seeking to maintain the value and quality of its product in the marketplace, he said.

Under Rockdale County’s Unified Development Code, a nonconforming use that is discontinued for six months cannot be re-established unless the interruption was “a direct result of governmental action impeding access to the property.” The quarry had operated since the 1950s, according to county documents, and was grandfathered as a legal nonconforming use under the county’s zoning ordinance.

Attorneys for Broad River claim that the quarry ceased operations for seven months, from Jan. 1, 2010, to Aug. 1, 2010. In addition, Broad River claims that no business license was issued for the quarry for four years, from 2007 through 2010 and that there were no operator hours reported for the quarry, as required by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for the years 2008 through 2012.

An affiliate of Georgia Stone Industries bought the quarry out of bankruptcy in November 2010 for $225,000. According to county records, the quarry wasn’t operating at the time. However, in April 2011, county code enforcement inspected the property based on a neighbor’s complaint about noise, prompting the county to order operations at the quarry to “cease immediately, and permanently.” In a letter to the quarry master, Planning and Development Director Walker noted that the quarry did not have a business license and that operation of a quarry was not allowed in the WP zoning district.

In a letter to Walker dated Nov. 22, 2013, a consultant for Georgia Stone stated that he had records showing that the only time the Rockdale quarry operations may have been suspended was January 2009 through November 2010. John Maurer, senior consultant with Green Technology Consulting, wrote that the suspension was due to the bankruptcy filing by the previous owner. Maurer wrote that, in his opinion, that interruption was “the direct result of government action impeding access to the property.”

Maurer further stated that operator hours required to be reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration were reported at another sub-unit of the quarry, rather than at the quarry itself.

“Operation of a granite quarry is not only quarrying granite, it includes sales, administration, transportation, invoicing, credit and collections, inventory management, maintenance, and other activities,” Maurer wrote. “It just so happens that the principal work location for these activities related to the (Rockdale) quarry is not in Conyers… “